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Honda Warns of CR-V Oil Leaks, Fires

Sep 9, 2004 | USA Today

Honda, which has reports of 60 fires from oil-filter leaks in some CR-V sport-utility vehicles, plans to step up communication with its dealers and remind all oil-change shops of proper service procedures.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed a preliminary investigation July 1 despite 22 reports of fires after oil changes in 2003 CR-Vs. Honda said then that it was notifying dealers that oil filters could stick and oil drips could cause fires if the work wasn't done properly.

Since then, the agency and automaker have become aware of 38 more fires. All but 10 occurred before mid-July, and all but one were in '03 and '04 models. The exception was a single fire in a 2002 model, the year the vehicle was redesigned.

Spokesman Andy Boyd says Honda did not change manufacturing or repair procedures for the '03 and '04 models and is looking into whether there were flaws with the filters or how they were installed. The fires have occurred only after original filters were first replaced.

It has no explanation for why repair work could suddenly go so wrong for the more recent versions of the redesigned CR-V. Says Bill Willen, Honda's managing counsel: "It is unusual."

NHTSA says that if service technicians failed to remove the old seals when changing oil filters, oil leaks from stacked or otherwise damaged seals could cause exhaust-system fires. The CR-V's exhaust manifold is positioned in a way that makes it easier for leaking oil to hit it, Honda says.

There are about 290,000 2003-04 CR-Vs on the road. Honda recommends oil and oil-filter changes every 10,000 miles, but Boyd says some customers have the work done at about 5,000 miles.

NHTSA is monitoring Honda's response to the problem and could reopen the investigation or negotiate a recall. But the agency believes it is a technician error.

The Washington Post has reported that several CR-V owners had narrow escapes from fiery vehicles, although, Boyd says, smoke should provide enough warning for people to get away from vehicles safely. No injuries have been reported, though at least two owners have filed lawsuits against Honda over the problem.

Before its decision this week to notify all independent lube shops and increase communication with dealers, Honda had notified all of its dealers and included information in its quarterly publication for independent shops, which will be distributed next month.

"We're not looking to downplay customer concerns, but in a certain sense, this is a self-curing issue," says Boyd. "Looking underneath and making sure there's nothing stuck underneath the (engine) block is standard operating procedure, and with very few exceptions, dealers are doing it."

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